Ensuring accountability and good governance
According to the latest Transparency International Bangladesh report, Bangladesh has moved downwards in the Corruption Perception Index 2018, released on January 29, 2019. Bangladesh has now been ranked 149th position among 180 countries.
It was in 143rd position in 2017. This assessment has created a furore inside Bangladesh. The BNP and some other parties allied have started using this report as vindication of their views about lack of good governance by the ruling governing party. The party in power, on the other hand, quite justifiably, has conveyed their dissatisfaction with various aspects of the report.
The information minister, finance minister, and chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) have all drawn attention to the fact that this report and also the method in determining the CPI were unclear -- the questions asked and the answers received by the TI needed to be made more transparent and more cohesive.
The chairman of ACC has suggested that the TIB should have consulted with the relevant agencies, drawn attention to the emerging least common denominators and asked them to give their opinion before rushing off to exercise their judgment and giving publicity to their findings.
Analysts generally agree that bribery, rent-seeking, inappropriate use of government funds, excessive lobbying, long time delays in service performance, pilferage, irresponsible conduct from government officials, and excessive bureaucratic intemperance and mindset have made public sector departments susceptible to corruption. Lack of proper accountability appears to have also been a cause for such a development.
It would also be interesting to recall that investigative media reports have suggested that there are great irregularities taking place in public hospitals. Doctors, nurses, and other professionals working in government-run public hospitals do not always follow the laid-down rules -- with regard to -- the carrying out of pathological investigations, providing the required medicines or sleeping facilities expected during treatment in a public hospital.
There have also been accusations of the demanding of bribes for services which are supposed to be provided free of cost.
These allegations have been rejected by the relevant authorities, but they clearly underline the need for more stringent monitoring of applicable regulations.
Another equation added to existing corruption has been illicit money outflow to different financial points in various countries of the world. Apparently, this process has involved the use of “over-invoicing and under-invoicing.” Another area affected by corrupt practices -- the lack of conforming to legal regulatory requirements within the private sector.
We come across reports on a regular basis where business owners have not been consistent with proper safety codes, fire exits, and more in workplaces. Recent drives by the government and careful investigations have led to an improvement, but the situation is still not fully satisfactory. As in other parts of South Asia, efforts are sometimes undermined due to the use of kickbacks in closed-door negotiations.
These elements have led at different times to international reports identifying Bangladesh as a nation with great promise that is being held back from moving forward even faster because of misgovernance, manipulation, and corruption within the public sectors. The Economic Freedom Index 2019 has recently also observed that there is fragile rule of law, corruption, and weak enforcement of property rights that is affecting small businesses and moving them towards the informal economy.
Many have claimed that the ACC, constituted through an act promulgated on February 23, 2004, has not been able to function as well as had been anticipated due to lack of pro-active investigations aimed at preventing corruption at the upper as well as the lower levels. In this context, the media has recently revealed that the rate of conviction in graft cases lodged by the ACC dropped in 2018, after a steady rise in the previous three years. The punishment rate was 60.64% last year, down from 67.93% in 2017.
One has to remember -- Bangladesh, despite serious odds, has been able to move forward because of the initiatives taken by this government over the last few years. In 2005, Bangladesh’s GDP was around $87 billion. Over the last ten years, our per capita income has crossed $1,750 and the GDP has climbed to nearly $300bn. The private sector has contributed in this exercise in a major way.
We have the ACC, but probably need to create another exclusive independent institution under the Ministry of Finance to tackle the question of illicit money transactions. It should include representatives trained in cyber-security from the ACC, NBR, and Bangladesh Bank. We should also set up special courts for speedy disposal of corruption cases. They should not be allowed to get stuck in the quagmire of legal technicalities.
Over the past decade, the siphoning off of big sums of money from Bangladesh appears to have increased. It has also been estimated that on an average, every year, such illicit flow out of Bangladesh has exceeded $5bn. Bangladesh in terms of illegal money laundering is now among the top 40 countries in the world.
We need to understand that illicit money outflow from the country cannot be stopped totally at one go. It can, however, probably be reduced over time by overcoming the challenges existing at the grassroots level. One measure that might take us forward would be to deny the right of whitening black money which indirectly sanctions the right to make money through illegal means.
One needs to conclude by referring to a recent report on corruption released by the International Monetary Fund where it was mentioned that bribery and the informal economy “sucks up between the $1.5 and $2tn annually around the world, dragging down economies and worsening social services for the poor.”
We need to understand that the economic impact of corruption might be hard to quantify, but we have to agree with the contention in this report “that corruption perpetuates economic inefficiency, undermines public policy, and exacerbates inequality.”
It is for this reason that we need to congratulate our prime minister and her new government for their latest initiative directed not only towards showing zero tolerance regarding corruption, but also ensuring transparency in decision making that will ensure accountability and good governance.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance, and can be reached at [email protected]